Basketball is a game of little things: little things that add up up over the course of 48 minutes: a missed assignment on defense here, an offensive foul there, a bad shot choice with a minute left, a missed freethrow, a blown call. This game came down to the little things, and the Magic did more of those little things in order to win.
This game definitely lived up to CtB’s pregame billing: an interesting matchup, and a barometer on whether Jeremy Pargo can follow up the brilliance of his first start for the Cavs. Pargo was controlled on offense, made very few bad plays, and was generally effective on drives and midrange shots, with a clutch corner three thrown in. His defense, especially in the pick and roll was not nearly as good as it was against Philly. In the pick and roll, he was ok… But his biggest problems came on the weak side wing when he he was cheating to help Waiters on the pick and roll, and leaving Afflalo, Reddick, or Nelson way too open for easy 3s. The Magic were willing to swing the ball to the open three point shooter, and absolutely punished the overplays to the tune of 11-21 from 3 point land, one of the little things that led to a loss. Every Cavs guard and wing defender had a problem staying at home.
With 25 points, Saint Weirdo was generally effective, though he seemed way too willing to shoot from 3, with 4 makes on an excessive 11 attempts. His 5 assists and zero turnovers showed off his ability to run the point when called on. The 2 steals were nice, and the Cavs were forcing turnovers like crazy in the first quarter and a half. But general ineffectiveness on defense against the pick and roll kept coming up to bite him and the rest of the Cavs in the butt, with easy layups for Nelson. And like everyone else, he gave up threes when guarding the off ball guard. Still he had some big shots, and some dumb ones, including the head scratching long 2 point brick from the top of the key with a little more than a minute left in the game, another little thing.
Anderson Varejao is a master of the little things it takes to win ball games. 19 points and 17 boards and 3 assists do not describe the overall brilliance of his game: power dribbling to start a sweet fast break, little tips to himself for offensive boards and putbacks, and a couple of tip-ins that defied the odds of rotational physics. One of the biggest problems with the Cavs down the stretch was the guards hesitance to pitch him the ball on the pick and roll. The Magic were quick hedging the ball handler, and then rotating back quickly. With most bigs, guards are trained not to pitch them the ball at the elbow when this happens. This is no man’s land for most big men. The Waiters and Pargo’s hesitance to give him the ball caused it to stick. They should realize that this is a position where Andy almost always makes the right play.
The bench was good this game, and it was Casspi’s best game of the season. He was solid from inside and outside of the arc, and played some good defense: doing the little things like tipping a ball to a teammate that led to possessions for the Cavs, leading to a well deserved +8 for the game to lead the Cavs. Miles made a very brief appearence, totally only 3 minutes for the night. Given Scott’s disdain for Casspi, I almost wonder if Miles got hurt. Zeller was solid and continues to show a deft quick finish touch around the basket with both hands. However, his jumper has not come around yet, and his missed 20 footers hurt. He also missed some crucial freethrows. He played OK defense, though in the second half Davis was giving him and the rest of the Cavs’ bigs fits.
The most curious bench player was the one who was not doing the little things. It was obvious that Daniel Gibson was hurting and not very effective. Taking only 4 shots in 25 minutes, and scoring his only 3 points on a terrible foul on a three point shot by Reddick, Gibson was not his normal self. The trust that Scott was putting in Boobie by subbing him in for Pargo down the stretch was commendable, but it was also a bad decision — a little thing that helped lose the game. Though Daniel did have 6 assists, the offense stalled without two ball handlers on the court, and the Cavs had a harder time scoring. Also, his defense has been overrated this season. The defensive breakdowns at the Game’s end were his fault as much as anyone.
Tristan Thompson continues to be an enigma. He had a dunk that barely got over the rim this game. I still think he put on too much weight, or hasn’t figured out how to play with the weight he had. He needs to watch film of Zeller, and his ability to get the ball up quickly and have proper footwoork with either hand. He got subbed out for Zeller late, who was rebounding better, but couldn’t contain Glen Davis. But TT seemed… forgettable.
In the end, it was a bunch of little things. The biggest little thing was the officiating. Yes, the Cavs couldn’t buy a call late. Big Baby was getting every whistle on offense and defense and generally playing like he had been given massive strength by a gamma radiation accident and the refs were afraid to anger him. On a crucial late play Hulk Baby Davis ran the ball handler, Gee, over on a pick and roll switch like he was a toadstool, and Gee flailed a shot up thinking he was going to get a call. That call never came, and that was about all she wrote for the Cavs. But… the Cavs let leads slip away, played poor 3 point defense, and put themselves in a position to lose to bad calls. Only star teams should expect calls on the road. Knowing and doing those little things are how ball games are won: free throws, limiting turnovers down the stretch, vets that know how to work the refs (the Cavs need one of these), and execution: the little things.